EDINBURGH: Which city has two central if extinct volcanoes, one of which is topped by the most precariously positioned castle imaginable? surprisingly it is not somewhere high in the Andes or on an Indonesian island, instead it is the elegant and laid-back Edinburgh.
The Scottish capital exudes a certain class but also knows how to have a good time – especially during its world famous arts festival in August and the New Year’s Eve “Hogmanay” extravaganza.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a weekend trip in the area.
5 p.m. – Train is by far the best way to arrive in Edinburgh. Waverley Station (www.networkrail.co.uk/edinburgh-waverley-station/departures-arrivals/) is as central as you can be, in a valley between the “old town” which rises up to the castle volcano and the “new town” made up of graceful Georgian architecture.
6 p.m. – Plenty of expensive hotels, both boutique and large names, dominate the old and new towns but bargains can be had with the Travelodge chain (www.travelodge.co.uk) offering cheap, well furnished rooms in very central locations.
8 p.m. – For a pricey but delicious immersion into Scottish culinary culture, including the national dish of haggis (sheep innards) and some great salmon, head to Hadrian’s Brasserie (www.hadriansbrasserie.com) in the Balmoral Hotel on the main new town thoroughfare of Princes Street.
10 p.m. – For late drinks, take a wander down Rose Street, which appears like a back road to Princes Street but is actually buzzing with pubs.
10 a.m. – Have breakfast in a number of local independent coffee shops dotted around the center, perhaps Scottish porridge or a scone.
11 a.m. – If you do not fancy climbing the second extinct volcano, the 251-meter high “Arthur’s Seat” which dominates the east of the city, then the smaller Calton Hill is much more manageable and offers superb views on the adjacent mountain, the castle rock and even the sea in the distance.
1 p.m. – Lunch is an easy affair if you find a bakery shop such as Greggs (www.greggs.co.uk) that stocks an unusual Scottish “delicacy” that you will struggle to find elsewhere in Britain – macaroni cheese pie. It is exactly what it sounds like and strangely delicious.
2 p.m. – For the afternoon it is time to take a walk up the “Royal Mile,” which starts from near the foot of Arthur’s Seat, by the British Queen’s official Edinburgh residence Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament, which ran vastly over budget and whose modern architecture caused high controversy.
Moving up the steady slope, there are a myriad of tacky and not-so-tacky souvenir shops before a series of excellent pubs in which to grab a “wee dram” of Scottish whisky.
Look out for the obligatory bagpiper on the cobbled street as you near the summit and also the Real Mary King’s Close exhibition (www.realmarykingsclose.com), a warren of now unused underground streets which are eerie beyond belief.
4 p.m. – Your walk up the hill ends at the castle. Just peer over the sides of the parade area before the main moat and see how sheer the drop is. Stands are erected on this precarious position every year for August’s Edinburgh Tattoo military parade.
The castle itself (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk) is interesting without blowing you away but a visit to the city is not complete without it.
7 p.m. – After a rest at the hotel, head out for dinner at one of the city’s innumerable Italian eateries, especially in the new town, often seen as a masterpiece of urban planning. The strong links between Italy and Scotland are long and shrouded in mystery but no one complains about the food bonanza it has sparked.
10 a.m. – For a trip out of the center, Edinburgh Zoo has Britain’s only giant pandas and Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool.
12 p.m. – The Zoo has three very decent cafeterias for lunch.
2 p.m. – Say goodbye to this glorious city at any one of the beguiling pubs back in the centrer, enjoying a roaring open fire and some of the finest ales in the U.K. Plus maybe one more whisky.